I love running of course, but history…not so much. So when I received my copy of When Running Was Young and So Were We, it took a huge amount of self-restraint to read the book through rather than skipping straight to the parts about “…training, techniques and strategies that make you a winner, on and off the field of competition.” But a few days later as I finished the last page, I was glad to have read the entire book. Apparently there are some types of history that can hold my interest!
The author, Jack D. Welch, is co-founder of Running magazine and former PR director of Nike. The book is based on his columns from Running and Track & Field News, and chronicles some of running’s great athletes from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Prior to reading this book, I wasn’t familiar with names such as Jon Sinclair, Greg Meyer, Mark Nenow, and many others. I’d never heard of Patti Catalano or Ingrid Kristiansen either. I also learned more about names I was familiar with; Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit, Dick Beardsley, Lynn Jennings, and Steve Prefontaine. The stories were interesting, humorous, and made these running greats seem much more human. Through Jack’s accounts, I learned a little about them and many others; stories relating their best and worst running moments, as well as how they helped shape the sport of distance running as we know it today.
Now I understand what my high school history teacher meant when he told us that, to really understand what we have today, we need to look back at how we got it and where it came from!
One of my favorite chapters detailed the race-walking career of Michelle and Mike Rohl. I’ve always been a bit fascinated with race-walking, and have even tried to imitate what I’ve seen on television once or twice (during an early morning run when it’s still dark and no one is watching). Michelle switched from running to race-walking when she figured out she could earn more money walking.
There are so many words of wisdom throughout the 352 pages, and each time I came to one I wanted to remember, I turned down the top of the page. By the time I’d finished the book, I had dog-eared a surprising number of pages! Here are some of my favorites:
“Training must be done in doses, and I mean that in a pharmaceutical sense. Two aspirins may cure a headache, yet a bottle of the same compound will most likely cause death. The same principle applies to training. 10×440 twice weekly might make you a faster runner. 10×440 twice a day might make you a golfer with a limp.”
Did you know that in 1997, New Balance offered one million dollars to the American man or woman who could run a faster marathon time than Bob Kempainen’s 2:08:47 (Boston, 1994) or JoanSamuelson’s 2:21:21 (Chicago 1985)? The money was never claimed. Think about the times being run today, and it’s amazing how far elites have progressed.
My favorite quote from the book has to be: “And what you learn about running and what you learn about life is…it’s not the stuff you do, but how you do the stuff you do…that’s what really matters.” “Hubert Humphrey often said that life is not to be endured, but enjoyed. You should apply that wisdom to your training.”
There’s something in When Running was Young for every runner, whether she’s looking for inspiration from runners who paved the way for us, or nuggets of training wisdom woven throughout the stories. Give this book a read – I promise you’ll find something inside that will enrich you as a runner!